Meet Cheri Hambrick, the first female trail boss in the history of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
"She runs a very clean operation and makes it easier on the committee," said Yance Montalbano, chairman of the Trail Ride Committee. "I told my wife, `We have a first lady trail boss,' and it couldn't have been a more appropriate lady."
In her volunteer position, Hambrick spends six months mapping out the trail's route. She speaks to city and county officials about getting police escorts, finds camping sites for each night out, and keeps count and notice of every person, animal and wagon on the ride. She's also chiefly responsible for the safety of the entire crew during the seven-day drive.
"My parents say they don't know how I got here. I was raised a city girl, but I had a love for horses," said Hambrick, 48, who wears her straight blond hair loose beneath a tan cowboy hat.
Several horsemen said Hambrick is resurrecting what was becoming a crippled ride. In one year, membership for the 108-mile ride from Brazoria doubled.
Each of her safety scouts now uses walkie-talkies, and she doesn't tolerate any lewd behavior.
"I feel very successful," she said.
Concerned about the safety and health of both the riders and the horses, her group takes breaks each hour and the caravan doesn't move faster than a human can walk. Some groups, she said, don't tend to their animals as they should.
"We have so much consideration for the riders, but not the horses," said Hambrick, a rider of 26 years. "I've been on rides where they don't even take the break for the horse."
Texas Independence, which began riding Feb. 21, will roll into Memorial Park today with the 13 other trail riding groups.
When Hambrick enters the park today, she completes her second year in a 52-year tradition dominated by men.
Mark F. Odintz, associate editor of the Handbook of Texas, said women weren't considered when it came to the rugged rides common during the pre-railroad cattle driving days.
Few women worked at that time, Odintz said.
"There were women ranchers, but they were mostly widows who had taken over the ranch. That would have been your best bet" for involvement among women, he said.
Of course there were cowgirls, he said, but they didn't get their golden reign until the early 20th century.
Even in the 21st century, Hambrick was leery about breaking in.
"We'd been trying hard to get her but she kept saying, `No, women don't do it,' " said Barbara Dean, 59, a fellow rider from Magnolia who has known Hambrick for more than 10 years.
"But she has the panache to pull it off -- and we like her," Dean said before pausing briefly. "No, we don't like her. We love her."
BTW, if you've never seen a trail ride, this picture will give you an idea of what it's like. Yes, they're riding on the highways and main roads once they hit town. What did you expect?Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 27, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack